How Long Have You Been Doing This?

Someone recently asked how long I had been sharing my cancer story. The simple answer is for 6+ years.

My first speaking engagement after my amputation was for the Board of Trustees of the University Minnesota Foundation. It was a speech of gratitude for the Masonic Cancer Center University of Minnesota. The Center’s resources, both monetary and mission, had made it possible for me to receive skillful, compassionate care, delivered with remarkable competence. I no longer had my let hand but I was cancer free. My comments were followed by those of Dr. Denis Clohisy, my surgeon. He shared information about his work and research as a member of the MCC. He commented that day that I was a tough act to follow. My affection for him has far more to do with his care than his compliments, but it was a very kind thing to say.

Since that time, I have spoken for the Masonic Cancer Center a number of times (silencing the lawyers being the greatest feat). I have spoken to businesses, churches and community groups on their behalf, and felt very fortunate to do so.

When my dear friend, Barbara, died in April of 2007, I expanded my understanding of the hourglass metaphor. The narrow spot I was experiencing at that time was that I no longer had Barbara in my life. Her sand was resting, forever. Mine was making that all too familiar passage from top to bottom, bringing me a new arrangement in my sand. It sometimes takes a while to discover the blessing in a loss.

What I am doing now has a longer answer and a shorter time frame. This has all transpired in one year. In fact, it is about one year ago right now that I began this journey to share my story and the accompanying message with a broader audience and to raise money for cancer research.

In the fall of 2009, I had 8 people in my larger circle of life die. They ranged in age from 33 – 86. Three died of cancer, one in childbirth, one from an aneurysm, one in a motorcycle accident, and two from living long, full lives. Needless to say, this affected me significantly and emotionally. I found myself humming “What’s it All About Alfie?”. I was deeply troubled by the number and causes of these losses in my life and could not reconcile the losses for the families of the deceased. It all seemed very tragic and large. Three other friends were diagnosed with cancer at this same time and it was the first anniversary of an additional significant death. I was feeling adrift and at loose ends.

The Center for Spirituality and Healing was hosting a workshop, lead by Richard Leider: “Living on Purpose”. I decided to go, even though I had taken the class 2 years before. It was a full day of examining my gifts and my purpose. It was just what I needed.

I had discovered/established my purpose in 1996, 3 years after leaving my last paid employment at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. I had made a conscious decision to sit on the curb and watch the parade go by for awhile before jumping onto another bandwagon. In the mean time, I struggled with an answer to the question that Minnesotans ask too frequently at first meeting, “What do you do?” Of course, the answer “I am a homemaker” tends to stop conversation with a pleasant smile. So I let the answer bubble up during those 3 years until it was fully developed. My purpose is to share my enthusiasm with the world.

In Richard’s workshop, I explored my giftedness, not finding anything new, but being affirmed in my talent as a speaker. I have always felt comfortable in front of an audience, especially when I am passionate about and confident in my subject. After a guided meditation in the afternoon, Richard asked us to jot down anything that had bubbled up. I wrote down, “It is time for the narrow spot in the hourglass to grow.”

I left the workshop with feeling of exhilaration and determination. One year later, I have established myself as a speaker with a national reputation, have raised over $6000 for cancer research, and have been affirmed in my belief that the message I share is timely and worthwhile.

I am grateful. Happy Thanksgiving!

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